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They Were Giants Then

Lamar Hunt gets a big woody for his 1969 Chiefs.

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Don't book that Northern California vacation just yet. Heck, you can see sequoia trees at Arrowhead Stadium.

But get to the sports complex soon, before the 49 brand-new, fog-loving "redwoods" wilt away in spring winds, summer heat, fall drought or playoff-season bitterness.

Whose idea was it to plant four dozen expensive and finicky coastal trees beside acres of asphalt in this nasty climate? Don't blame Kansas City parks board member Sandra Doolin Aust, even though she helped Hall of Famer Bobby Bell toss dirt onto team owner Lamar Hunt's burlap-covered balls last week at the April 15 ceremonial planting. "Mr. Hunt and his wife, I believe, are the visionaries behind it," Aust says, adding that "it would be magnificent" if the alien grove grew to 60 feet. Do we want our leaders thinking so small? The tallest Sequoiadendron gigantea on earth (the tallest tree, period) is 261 feet.

A prehistoric sound bite from the Chiefs' only Super Bowl victory gave Hunt the idea. After that 1969 game, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp lamented that "the Chiefs' defensive line was very active and looked like a redwood forest." Chiefs chatterbox Morgan Shaw talks of the foliated guinea pigs in the sort of teamspeak she might apply to last weekend's draft choices: "We're expecting all of them aren't going to thrive immediately."

Kansas City forester Charles Knight won't be much help when it comes to caring for the fragile giants. "That's really the first time I'd seen one," Knight said after scooping dirt with Hunt. "I've never had any dealings with them." Powell Gardens horticulture director Alan Branhagen recently took a chance by planting one specimen of a particularly tough sequoia variety. He told us Kansas City and parts eastward sit in a tiny banana belt that might be favorable for sequoias. "But I don't know of any in the area that are really big that you could go look at," he says.

Shaw told us that Rockhurst University had fresh deck lumber, but spokeswoman Katherine Frohoff says the campus groundskeeper denies harboring a sequoia. "He said, 'That's incorrect; we don't have one,'" Frohoff says.

Even the Oregon nursery that sold Hunt the trees disavows responsibility. "We'll sell you anything you want," says Boething Treeland horticulturist Ben Levy. "But I would have tried to talk you into a different tree."

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